Friday Link List | 9th October 2015

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too, next week I want to start sharing some links readers of the site are finding interesting…If you read something you think should be featured here submit it here, starting your message LINK LIST SUGGESTION.

This last week I posted a first City Guide to Tainan that took alot of work and talked about worship in a minor key here.


Jonathan Morgan pointed to this short film on Phyllis Tickle in the comments last week and her experience of her husbands dementia;

and while we are on mental health issues and theology, I watched this short interview with John Swinton which focuses around theological reflections on dementia, who was my undergrad prof at Aberdeen. His responses to these questions reminded me how formative my short time with him was for my own thinking;

Fred Sanders unpacks this early church document from Tertullian which includes this translation regarding the persecution of the church;

She enters no plea for her cause, because she feels no wonder at her condition.

She knows that she lives as a stranger upon earth, that among aliens she easily finds foes; but that she has her birth, her home, her hope, her honor, and her dignity in the heavens.

Last week I read Liam Thatcher’s thoughts on why the courtroom metaphor for the gospel is far from perfect, this week he shares an analogy borrowed from NT Wright he believes is closer to a better analogy (while conceded the limited ability of analogy’s themselves)

Do you know how a fox gets rid of its fleas? The fox goes along the hedgerow, and collects little bits of sheep’s wool. Then he makes it all into a ball of wool, which he holds in his mouth. Then he goes to the stream, and slowly, slowly, walks down into the water. He lowers himself right down into the water, with the ball of wool in his mouth, until at last he is totally submerged; then he lets go, and ball of wool floats away downstream, carrying all the fleas with it. The fox emerges, clean. In this image, Jesus is the ball of wool. The spotless Lamb allows the evil of the whole world to be concentrated on himself. He doesn’t keep it in circulation by reacting with violence; nor does he escape into the ineffective innocence of quietism. He takes the weight of the world’s evil upon himself, so that the world may emerge, clean.” (N.T. Wright, Following Jesus, p.48)

Theological Ethics

More recently I’ve been trying to take more seriously the implications of the incarnation, that we can know something of God through our embodiedness, both because we are made in the image of God, and God came into the image of us in the Christ. So, I found this post on embodiedness very interesting as it pushes back the late Pope John Paul II’s account of a theology of the body.

In one of the most interesting group discussion I’ve been in on the subject of pastoring those with same-sex attraction, the issue of gender identity and intersex (a condition previously named hermaphradite) came up. Although this seems like a very marginal ethical issues for Christians to deal with, when the issue of intersex was brought up, it was cited as an occurance in 1 in every few hundred births to some extent (I don’t have any citation for that, so take it with as much weight as that implies), but certainly this story, has caught imagination. Those leading this discussion mentioned that their advice for discipling those with same-sex attraction was to first be asking if the person being discipled is aware of the sex they were born, and to receive a chromosome test if they are not.

This ambiguous quote of Jesus in Matthew should guide something of our thinking towards this issue;

For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others–and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Alastair Roberts posts his thoughts on Intersex and things to consider as it is addressed theologically and pastorally here. A condensed version was posted at Think Theology, where I first found it.

It seems to me that circumcision poses genuine problems for any intersex theology. As I have observed before, the biblical narrative foregrounds the reproductive organs of many of its characters in a pronounced way—it is frequently a tale of circumcised foreskins and opened wombs. The sign of the covenant is placed upon the male sex organ. Unless we adopt a Marcionite approach, we must reckon with the peculiar significance that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ gave to the male sex organ in circumcision. This poses problems for any position that wishes to negate the theological significance of sexual—and gender—difference and its relation to reproduction—even when we acknowledge that things have changed in the New Covenant. If the difference between the sexes and between persons with ambiguous and entirely unambiguous sexual characteristics is a matter of indifference, why did God institute a primary covenant ritual that was so overtly sexually differentiating? Such questions often expose or provoke huge theological divergences.

On the incarnation:
The suggestion that we should imagine an intersex Jesus—or a black Jesus, a queer Jesus, an English Jesus, etc.—strikes me as a theologically problematic potential obscuring of the particularity of the incarnation (different attempts theologically to justify such images fare differently in terms of their obscuring potential). As we are reminded in the Feast of the Circumcision, Christ came to earth in the fullness of time as a Jewish male, born as the male seed of a woman, under the Law, the son of David, and the heir of a particular lineage. The Jewish male body was the bearer of unique covenant meaning and Christ bore that meaning. This claim will obviously raise unsettling (and important) questions for many in other areas, but I believe other theological resources are available to us to answer such questions. The body in which Jesus came to us is not a matter of theological indifference.

Finally, as I have spoken with people on the issue of same-sex attraction in the Church one of the most pressing issues that arises shortly after theological cannons have be shot are, how do we deal pastorally with this. If we are to call people to abstinence then we need to radically re-evaluation our wholesale adoption of privatistic individualism which manifests in loyalty to nuclear family and little more lest we leave people in hellish isolation who don’t have options to procreate.

In relation to this, I thought this book review by Bob trube at Emerging Scholars on a book by Wesley Hill named Spiritual Friendship.

The idea of a celibate, chaste, single life is scorned today not only because of the myth that one can only live a fulfilled, fully human life within the context of a sexually intimate relationship. Perhaps more fundamentally, if less openly acknowledged, this seems a terrible choice for those who are single, gay or straight, because it is a call to loneliness.

then a quote from the book itself on the position of the author;

There is a divine ‘Yes’ to marriage and sexual intimacy between a man and a woman, premised on their bodily difference that seemed to gesture toward (albeit faintly) the transcendent difference of Creator from creature. But that ‘Yes’ also seemed to disclose a corresponding ‘No’ to sexual intimacy in any other context. (p. 18)

then again from the review summarising the book;

The first part begins by talking about the eclipse of the idea of friendship in a sexualized culture.where any deeply affectionate and caring relationship between human beings is concluded to be sexual, something especially difficult for the gay celibate Christian for whom a deep non-sexual friendship may be a lifeline.

Music and the Church

Last week I posted on Jamie Smiths reflections on the propensity of modern worship to be a form of pep rally, well, I’ve kept thinking and practising sung worship this week;

After existentialism writes this on the protestant and catholic aesthetic, which I thought was intriguing difference and lead us into some thoughts about music in the church;

As is often said, the Catholic aesthetic is visual and material; the Protestant aesthetic is verbal and aural. Even Catholic novelists — in a verbal medium — are basically imaginative (image-making) in their orientation. Tolkien is an obvious example.
Protestants do preaching; Catholics do cathedrals. Both proclaim the gospel. It is only the small-minded Protestant who cannot admit the deficiency in the Protestant aesthetic; it is only the small-minded Catholic who cannot admit the deficiency in the Catholic aesthetic.

So, in a review of Ancient Christian Worship at Jesus Creed this week, music came up with regard to its practise in the early church;

What struck me was that teaching and admonishing in all wisdom through the recitation/singing of psalms, through hymns, and through songs from the Spirit. That is, singing is catechesis; singing is a form of teaching. Church music is not ornamental, it is not entertainment, and it is not aesthetics. It is didactic to the core.

Communal singing was a metaphor for unity and fellowship, but it indicates the church fellowship singing as a choir together. Performative singing was yet to come.

Then I found this Worship music rant by Andrew Wilson, what sets his rant apart is how it starts;

I’m a huge fan of contemporary worship music. I don’t even apologise for it, despite the scorn respectable middle-aged men are supposed to pour on it…the sheer power of music to move us, lift us, and catch us up in dancing, singing, joy-filled praise, when combined with thoughtful and God-exalting content, is such a gift that it would be churlish to sneer at it. So I’m not the guy who sits tutting with his arms folded when the Newday Big Top is bouncing to That’s Why We Move Like This; I’m right at the front, bouncing with them.

Read more here

Not exactly music but this characterisation of the role of baptism was interesting to me (again from the ancient christian worship review series taking place at Jesus Creed)

For those for whom it “does” the least, baptism is emphasized the most; for those for whom it “does” the most, it is emphasizes the least. That’s an overstatement: baptists don’t think baptism “does” much (it’s a symbol, not a sacrament; it’s real essence is faith that precedes the water) while infant baptizers think baptism “does” much but often don’t emphasize it enough.

Finally, like last week I’m pointing over to Skye Jethani’s blog, but this time a Guest post, a letter to the dones – a term used by sociologists to describe those done with Church, but not with Jesus. Here are a few quotes but, its well worth reading the whole thing here

When I was baptized, I did not know I was uniting myself to a chronically ill patient on life support. She is the church, and she is so, so sick. She has Alzheimer’s; she doesn’t remember who she is. She has leprosy; sometimes she doesn’t feel her own pain. I am not the only one who sees her illnesses.

and then;

But the church is not unique. If we stay with any community long enough, we will find the same bitter taste in our mouths. Every institution, every workplace, and every family has the same shortcoming—people. The church is the medicine for our arrogance and our narcissism. Spend enough time with the unlovely, and you discover you are one of them. Only when we realize our own sickness can we begin to be healed.

Enjoy the weekend..

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Worship in a minor key | James K.A. Smith on Ryan Adams cover of Taylor Swift 1989

James Smith wrote an article on listening to Ryan Adams cover of Taylor Swift 1989. I have to admit to having never listened to either artist. But I thought his reflections on how we depend on the character of our sung worship to be our emotional uplift rather than allowing it to cover the whole range of human experiences and emotions to be right on point. 

Some questions I’ve had with regard to our worship styles are;

What is the impact on discipleship when our worship styles indicate that our responses to God always have to end with a smiley faced emoticon?

What kind of dissonance do we create when we make worship an escape rather than a God-empowered embrace of reality?

What does this have to do with worship? We live, you might say, in a major chord culture. We live in a society that wants even its heartbreaking lyrics delivered in pop medleys that keep us upbeat, tunes we can dance to. We live for the “hook,” that turn that makes it all OK, that lets us shake it off and distract ourselves to death. And this cultural penchant for a certain sonic grammar seeps into the church and the church’s worship, so that we want songs and hymns and spiritual songs that do the same. But as a result we often create a (pre)cognitive dissonance between the Bible’s honesty, carried in our hymns and psalms, and our pop retunings. Or we embed them in a sonic liturgical environment that endeavors to be, above all, “upbeat” and positive–a weekly pick-up encouraging you to just “shake it off.” – James K.A Smith

Read smiths articles here

Page CXVI – – Joy;

Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile And Stuart Duncan | NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

If you can’t watch the whole video I recommend the song that starts at 5:25

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Tainan 2015 | Short City Guide

We don’t travel as much as many people we know, but enough to want to discover the ‘hidden treasures’ of a city rather than simply stick to the tourist stuff.

These short city guides will be a helpful reference for those that like;
– places not so fancy you need to go into savings, but nice enough to make a meal feel like an occasion
– People who take their coffee seriously and don’t just give burnt instant and call it coffee.
– Interesting twists and details on regular fare
– Places that you can turn up at and don’t have to make a reservation a few months in advance
– service with authentic friendliness but not over the top persistence
– a place catering to locals not just tourist traps

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Here’s our take on some places we discovered or came to with local friends in Tainan, Taiwan;

Tainan, Taiwan

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Tainan in Taiwan is the third largest city in taiwan and is increasingly a tourist destination for those in and outside of taiwan. I was told it has some of the oldest architecture and is one of the last places where a visual and cultural reminder of Japanese rule is in place.
Read More


Friday Link List | 25th September 2015

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too, next week I want to start sharing some links readers of the site are finding interesting…If you read something you think should be featured here submit it here, starting your message LINK LIST SUGGESTION.

This weeks title image was taken in Goudini near Rawsonville South Africa where we spent a few days this week.


Is the Bible History?

If you can allow it to hold your attention for long enough, it’s worth your time to wrap your head around this article by Greg Boyd about whether the Bible is reliable history or not. For those not used to the density of theological reading, take it slow and it will reward you.

Work is the new Sex

Last year Skye Jethani came and spoke to the MA program I was involved in and since has become one of the most under-known, yet reliable and incisive voices in cultural commentary.

These two posts are worth your time – Work is the new sex (Part 1 \ Part 2)

Phyllis Tickle dies

Christian Author Phyllis Tickle died earlier this week, here are a couple more personal reflections on her life from Jamie Arpin Ricci and Andrew Jones

5 Permissions for Missions

A few friends indepedently mentioned how useful this blog was in the past week. It was posted by Floyd McClung, but was originally written by Michéle Phoenix:

Five Permissions Missionaries Need

1.Permission To Be Confused
2. Permission To Be Flawed
3. Permission To Rest
4. Permission to Spend
5. Permission to quit

read more here

Oliver O’ Donovan on Spontaneity and Tradition

Interesting quote from Theological ethicist Oliver O’ Donovan on the connection between the admiration for spontanaeity (a God of our age) and reverence for tradition (a trend increasingly catching among evangelicals);

Admiration for spontaneity and reverence for tradition are, of course, aspects of the same failing: a refusal to bring this Christological principle of criticism to the manifestation of spirits, present or past, within the church. What, after all, is tradition other than spontaneity in slow motion? The Montanist movement of the second and third centuries illustrates archetypically the church’s double temptation to value spontaneous innovations in themselves and then to build them into a new law.

via Think Theology


Picturing her time on the ISS

Italy’s first female astronaut documents her time in the I SS

Texture and Memory by Fernando Gros

Sometimes the subject of a blog will have little to no draw for me at all, but then the way in which it is written is so engaging you just cannot stop. This was the case for Fernando Gros’ piece on Texture and Memory

a few favourite moments;

Texture is the memory a material possesses, the way it recalls the journey from raw material to processed form.


Classic style is kind of like preservation. It isn’t keeping things for the sake of keeping them, but remaking them in a way that sustains a sense of identity, or tradition. The classic style can actually be renewed and reinterpreted from generation to generation. It’s permanent, but not fixed

Friends interview friends

One friend Jonathan morgan interviewing another friend Dougal Paterson here.

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The first commandment, is the first commandment, because it is the first commandment. No one can break any other commandment, without first breaking commandment number 1

- Luther

We are not our own; therefore let us, as far as possible, forget ourselves and all things that are ours. On the contrary, we are God’s; to him, therefore, let us live and die. We are God’s; therefore… Read More

Institutes, III.6.1 - Calvin

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God creates us not to know everything

But was there ever a language in which the totality of a thing in its essence was communicated fully in words? James K.A. Smith, a Christian philosopher at Calvin College, says no. In his book The Fall of Interpretation, Smith argues that human beings were never intended to grasp the totality of the world instantaneously and without mediation – that the need to engage the world through thoughts and signs that grasp the world only partially is not a consequence of our fallenness but of our finitude; that God creates us not to know everything in the way that he knows everything but continually to learn, to grow, and to discover in ways that are appropriate to our status as finite ccreatures (emphasis mine)

Interesting blog post here at the emerging Scholars blog. 

In the last few years I’ve been more endeared to the idea of eternity forever unfolding than I am the idea of one great static information download upon resurrection. Maybe our ability to learn is our glory and finitude is to be embraced as creature rather than creator. 

The rest of the post is worth a read here


Letting Go and not planting the Church you had in mind

Culture is a funny thing. Man-Made to a large extent but completely necessary. Someone once remarked to my wide-eyed insistence that we should “change our worldview”;

Changing your worldview is like pushing a double decker bus….while you are inside it.

We grow up learning what is right, and what is true. It is extraordinarily hard to separate yourself from those ideas that take place in such formative ages and through such foundational relationships. For us to function healthily we must attain some foundational certainty, but for us to continue to grow in adulthood we must learn how to re-evaluate.

Learning to live alongside other cultures has taught me a few disciplines for gaining what little understanding I can claim to have of those cultures. These ideas are not rules as such, but more un-attainable goals. The idea is that if I aim at 10 out of 10, I’ll probably get to 6 out of 10, but might have only gott to 3 without 10 as the goal. In both of these ideas, the goal isn’t actually to fulfill them as if they were rules, but to place them out of reach so that I go as far as I can with them. Last year, I managed a few months of consistency at the gym, because I scheduled it 5 days a week. I never intended to go 5 days a week, but I normally got to 2-3. If I had a planned 3 days a week, I would have likely gone once or not at all. So these ideas follow that logic, they are purposeful over-the-top-statements;

1) Don’t trust your gut

This is a hard one. The things we really believe at a deep level are really true, we don’t think in our heads, we feel them in our gut. Whether you call that place your heart, stomach or gut, it is a more integrated belief than pure intellectual knowledge. When you see something that pulls at this level of knowing, it feel like it pulls directly at what makes you, you. It begins to tear at the fabric of your perceived universe.

As a Christian this can seem all the more troublesome. We are invested in discerning, and hearing the voice of Holy Spirit which are already tough things to do. How do you distinguish your gut, from these things? Well, if it was easy I’d have 3 steps for you, but it isn’t. But one thing I can tell you is when you feel something at this level, it isn’t always your sanctified discernment, or prophetic impulse, it is often your culture.

Not trusting your gut gives you a window of time, not endless, but long enough to withhold judgement and allow the universe to feel like chaos and enter in to the logic or connections of the other culture.

2) Don’t call anything demonic for 10 years

I know this one will seem deeply un-discerning for many of you out there, but remember my shooting for 10/10 analogy above? I have already failed at this; two young people were raped and one was killed this week in the community we work in. Everything in me wants to say; demonic.

But at the same time it was people, and often talk of the demonic can so un-embody the problem that we forget, Jesus makes the Spiritual, the unseen real, embodied. The problems we face will be spiritual and in-bodied, and so will the solutions.

I’m not of the stream that would consider humans, “worthless worms, debased and wicked” but I do think our motivations are frequently less sanctified than we’d like to admit. Often our desires to judge something as bad, or demonic is because it makes us uncomfortable and we know the easiest way to pronounce on something in a way that won’t easily be challenged is to Spiritualise it.

Not calling something demonic helps us look at it for a little bit longer than just writing it off into a black and white universe that keeps with our sense of how thing really are. The reality is, for longer than you think in a cross-cultural environment, you don’t know how things really are. You can place your grid (and there are times when a prophetic voice from outside a culture is helpful) but rarely will placing your grid on a culture help you affect lasting change.

Affecting Lasting Change

Lasting change seems to always happen from the inside out, in people, and in communities, you can catalyse or begin the momentum from outside, but if the people or realities on the inside don’t get moved, little will change. Real change is more than simply performance on the outside, when things go badly, performance falls apart and we wondered whatever happened to that sanctified veneer we had been interacting with. Real change goes and often starts deep on the inside.

Living alongside a culture that is not your own, that you want to see some form of change happen in is not easy, it is often about a letting go. Not a passivity, but an understanding of what is yours to do, what is theirs and what is God’s. I think that might be true for more than just cross-cultural ministry in fact.

These verses have helped me in understanding the process of letting go;

And I tell you are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church
Matthew 16:18

The protestant interpretation of this verse has been that rather than a source for papacy (with Peter as the lineage of the Pope in roman catholicism), Jesus includes a promise in the second half. That He Himself will build His Church.

I like this insight into Vincent Donovan’s perspective on working across cultures with a desire to see the local church raised up;

It was this kind of letting go that informed Vincent Donovan’s conviction, in his work among the Masai people in Tanzania. Donovan, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, understood the significance of not fixing the form of the church in advance, of not predetermining what the Christian community should look like. He had that deeply gospel-informed instinct that the missio Dei involves a quest for the emergence of the Word’s community in whatever forms and whatever shapes such might take. He understood that ‘because a missionary comes from another already existing church, that is the image of church [they] will have in mind, and if [their] job is to establish a church, that is the church [they] will establish’. But ‘the missionary’s job’, as Donovan put it, ‘is to preach, not the church, but Christ. If he [or she] preaches Christ’, a ‘church may well result, may well appear, but it might not be the church [the missionary] had in mind’. (Little wonder he was not Rome’s best friend.) The missionary church must preach Christ, not the church. And the response – and the shape of that response – will be up to those who hear the message. They will have to do their own work, offer their own faithful responses to the Word they hear. The Word must have his own freedom to create or not to create whatever forms of community he chooses. And what he chooses might look entirely unfamiliar to all who have passed by this way before.

This is one of those 10/10 goals, I’m not even sure I agree with everything in it, but I love the impulses behind it. We bring the story of Jesus, we trust that Holy Spirit will be present in the reading of the word and a church rises up, but, as Donovan says; “might not be the church [the missionary] had in mind” because ultimately change will happen on the inside, where no missionary can ultimately go, but holy Spirit will be present to guide; “the shape of that response – will be up to those who hear the message. They will have to do their own work, offer their own faithful responses to the Word they hear.”

So, what hope do we have as outsiders to other cultures, or more simply, other people in affecting change. I would argue that we actually have a great deal of hope. Stories in scriptures consistently point to a voice and an initiating agent in how God intended to bring change in a person, city and nation, but it is important that we have a good handle on what our role is, what their role is, and what God’s role is. Only when we let go, can we be free to respond to people without being the one who has to change them. We can respond to God without feeling like he places all the expectation at our feet. We can live under the ‘easy yoke’ he promised, to pull a load alongside Him, thats the joy of letting Go.

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Link: Israel denies it’s roots by denying refugees | Giles Fraser

It wasn’t until I moved to south Africa that I encountered deeply held convictions regarding zionism and the modern day state of Israel. In the churches I was a part of in the UK, the attitude it seemed was that it was rather impolite to bring up divisive issues such as Israel, the end times and other such fanciful beliefs (which don’t seem often to be held by anyone but ardent evangelists for the side of their particular issue). 

In a world where people are either aggressively for or against Israel, backed to the hilt (or so it seems to them) with theological reasons, it was fascinating just to read Giles Fraser speak about his secular zionism. 

Here in south Africa we are well acquainted with living along side refugees, and in one sense, we are selves are migrants, which means from a distance the European refugee situation doesn’t strike us as quite as apocalyptic as it is being portrayed for the host nations. 

Giles Fraser claims Israel is refusing the very foundations of its nation state both in its secular and theological imagination;

In the theological imagination, Israel exists because of a covenant, a treaty, between God and his people. But the terms of this pact are provisional, containing a severance clause if Israel doesn’t keep its side of the bargain.

And, as described in Leviticus, the consequences of such a failure are catastrophic: “But if you [Israel] will not listen to me and carry out all these commands … I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies.” Secular people can happily ignore this as a dusty old book. But those on the religious right, who claim the Bible as their title deeds, ought to take the provisional nature of their contract more seriously. And the call of the ram’s horn is an appropriate time for such much-needed reflection. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Read more

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